Simulated car helps patients gain confidence

May 30th, 2017
Patrick Buxton, a patient in the Rehabilitation Patient Care Unit at Memorial Hospital Central, works with Andrew Bettlach, an occupational therapist, to practice transferring from a wheelchair into a simulated car. Gregory Braeger, therapy manager, looks on.
Patrick Buxton, a patient in the Rehabilitation Patient Care Unit at Memorial Hospital Central, works with Andrew Bettlach, an occupational therapist, to practice transferring from a wheelchair into a simulated car. Gregory Braeger, therapy manager, looks on.

One of the first things a patient has to accomplish after being released from the hospital is something most people take for granted: Getting in a car.

Part of the therapy on the inpatient rehabilitation unit at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, where patients strive to regain abilities that have been lost due to an injury or illness, includes teaching patients how to safely transfer into a car.

“Being able to get into a car is such a key component of independence,’’ said Greg Braeger, therapy manager on Memorial’s 22-bed inpatient rehabilitation unit, where patients receive physical, occupational and speech therapy. “Almost any place we go, in general, involves getting into a car.’’

To help patients practice getting into a vehicle before leaving the hospital, the Memorial Hospital Rehabilitation Unit now has a mock car to help patients hone their skills. The car is a gift to the hospital from the Memorial Hospital Foundation, and it has two seats, seatbelts, two doors and a steering wheel. The car can be raised and lowered, so patients can practice on a car that is similar in height to the one they’ll be riding in after release from the hospital.

“We were really surprised to learn about the need for equipment that helps with such a basic daily task, something so many of us do several times a day without giving it a second thought,’’ said Foundation Director Cari Karns. “The Foundation decided that we should direct our golf tournament to benefit rehab—anything that directly impacts patients’ lives is a great fit for us.”

Braeger said that any rehabilitation patient who could get in and out of a vehicle before coming to the hospital practices how to transfer to a car during therapy. Having a mock car that is adjustable in height helps therapists tailor care for the individual.

“Getting in and out of a Suburban is a lot different than trying to get in and out of a Honda Civic,’’ Braeger said. “And getting out of a Suburban is a lot easier for some people than getting out of a Honda Civic.’’

Patrick Buxton transfers from a wheelchair to a simulated car, a gift of the Memorial Hospital Foundation. Occupational therapist Andrew Bettlach, assists. Gregory Braeger, therapy manager, said that allowing patients to practice getting in and out of a car may help prevent falls.
Patrick Buxton transfers from a wheelchair to a simulated car, a gift of the Memorial Hospital Foundation. Occupational therapist Andrew Bettlach, assists. Gregory Braeger, therapy manager, said that allowing patients to practice getting in and out of a car may help prevent falls.

Having the opportunity to practice while an occupational therapist is at their side helps patients gain confidence and master the skill and prevent falls. Patients also learn many other tasks on the unit – bathing, feeding, light housekeeping – and much more.

“We are concerned about patient safety and we want our patients to return to their normal lives, and getting into a car is one of the first things they’ll have to do when they leave the hospital,’’ Braeger said.

In the past, patients have practiced getting into a car come rain or shine. The addition of the life-like car on the rehab unit allows patients to practice in a safe and comfortable setting.

The car is used only for the purposes of teaching people how to get into a car. Those patients who need help learning to actually drive a car again are referred to a driving school.

 

 

 

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.